Reporter& Farmer


Multiple tornadoes touch down, one damages rural Bristol farm

Doug Johnson was working in the shop last week at his rural Bristol farm when he decided to step outside and look up at the clouds – just in time to see a tornado headed his way.

“I was working in the quonset and thought, ‘this doesn’t feel right,’” he said. “I walked outside and I saw the tornado.”

The National Weather Service (NWS) later classified this weather incident as an EF-1 tornado. It was one of at least three confirmed tornado touch downs in Day County Sept. 9 as a severe thunderstorm tracked across the area. Of those, this was the strongest; the NWS estimated its peak winds were at 90 miles an hour and its path length was 1.4 miles, with a maximum width of about 80 yards. Using Johnson’s estimates, the NWS reported the tornado was on the ground from about 8:03 to 8:11 p.m.

“It just kind of felt like a tornado (that day). The whole sky kept rumbling and thundering. The humidity was so high, there was that clammy feeling in the air. It’s September. You don’t normally think of tornadoes (this time of the year),” Johnson said.

When Johnson saw the tornado to the west of his place, he went inside and told the only other people at home – his daughter Brooke Logan, Aberdeen and grandson Kashdayn, 2 – to get in the basement. They took refuge in a room under the stairwell, wrapping themselves in blankets.

Meanwhile, Johnson headed back outside to photograph and film the natural phenomenon as it barreled towards his home. Johnson said the twister appeared to be on a direct collision path with his house, located four miles northeast of Bristol. According to Johnson, who’s lived at that farm since the 1980s, he’s seen many funnel clouds at that site but this was the first actual tornado. He said once the twister got closer to the end of his driveway, he went into the basement to join his family.

Expecting to at least lose the roof of his house and thinking it would be a noisy process, Johnson said he was surprised when after a few minutes it was still quiet. He decided to go up and look and discovered the tornado had missed his house. He said he looked to the east of his yard and was able to make out the twister’s outline in the fading evening light.

It wasn’t until he started looking around that he noticed the full extent of the damage the tornado had wrought in his yard.

The twister cut a path to the north of Johnson’s house, missing that structure but damaging many trees through his shelter belt. A small building was lifted off it’s foundation and moved about 30 yards away; corral panels and a feed bunk were displaced and twisted like rope. Two young bison bulls were missing from their corral although they were later found and Johnson isn’t sure if they escaped through an opening in the fence during the tornado or if they went for a ride in the wind; the animals both appeared to be uninjured. A small fiberglass outbuilding was tossed about 70 yards away and smashed into a heap in the middle of his trees. The windshield of his tractor was broken and the roof panel ripped off. A gravity bin was tipped over but mostly undamaged. A couple fishing shacks that were parked nearby had been blown into a fence.

Also, Johnson said, “The trampoline is gone.”

A few miles further northwest at Lynn Lake Lodge, Karen Johnson said they could see the tornado they later learned narrowly missed her brother-in-law’s house. A few minutes after that disappeared, her husband Paul Johnson photographed a twister go by the north of their fishing lodge from half a mile south of the place. According to the NWS, that tornado happened at 8:14 p.m. and only lasted about a minute. It’s estimated peak winds were 73 miles per hour and its path length was .1 mile with a maximum width of 10 yards. NWS reported an area with cattails flattened in a convergent pattern was the only physical evidence of that event. It was classified as an EF-0.

“We’re very fortunate,” Karen Johnson said. “It was close, really close.”

The first reported tornado of the night was located about two and a half miles north of Webster, according to NWS. Their report stated a witness observed and recorded the EF-0 touchdown over a lake before tracking onto a pasture and then lifting. The touchdown occurred at 6:55 p.m. and it lifted at 6:56 p.m. That twister’s estimated peak winds were 73 miles per hour with a maximum width of 10 yards and a path length of .1 miles. According to NWS, no damage occurred.

Workings of the warnings

Multiple electronic warnings were issued via the county-wide AlertSense system and tornado sirens were set off in Roslyn, Pickerel and Enemy Swim, according to Mandy Bartelt with the Day County Sheriff’s Office. According to her, the sirens in Webster were not set off nor were residents there notified of danger because the city was not in the path of the storm.

“Sirens are designated for people who are outdoors. Their intention is to warn those outside to seek shelter,” she said. “If people aren’t signed up (for AlertSense), they won’t get the alert through their phones.”

Bartelt, who manages the county’s AlertSense system, said furthermore, the weather warnings are sent out directly from NWS and not through her. She said only those in the specifically affected area would have gotten an alert.

“Webster wasn’t in the warning area,” she said. “The tornado wasn’t a threat to the city.”

Additionally, ­anyone who has not opted in would not have received a warning via their cellular device or landline through the AlertSense system. They may have still received a warning directly from NWS’s Emergency Alert System. Messages are sent out through that system when there’s an eminent danger or threat to life and safety.

To sign up for AlertSense and receive weather warnings and other community-based alerts, visit or call Bartelt at 345-3222 and she’ll help set it up over the phone.

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